Virginia judge dismisses obscenity lawsuit on books

There was a Virginia judge An extraordinary case was dismissed A state may ban the sale of two books to children. After Tuesday’s hearing, Virginia Beach Circuit Court Judge Pamela Baskerville of Maia Kobabe Gender Queer: A Memoir and Sarah Moss’ A Court of Mist and Fury Virginia’s statute fails to meet the standard for obscenity — and more consequentially, the obscenity statute itself is unconstitutional.

Republican state delegate Tim Anderson and former congressional candidate Tommy Altman sparked controversy earlier this year by exploiting a little-used rule that allows anyone in the state to open obscenities. Altman and Anderson argued that what they described as sexually suggestive material in both books was inappropriate for under-18s. They asked the judge to declare the books “obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors”. Eliminated some First Amendment protections.

While Anderson and Altman insisted the ruling would not amount to a “ban,” the complaint demanded that booksellers — notably Barnes & Noble — restrict access to the titles. If granted, the reasoning behind the demand could apply to internet sales of the book in Virginia or more broadly. Matt Callahan of the ACLU of Virginia argued that the law was too vague to allow “a person to deliver a book to someone they live with.”

Virginia Beach Circuit Court Judge Pamela Baskerville allowed the case to proceed in May because the books were potentially obscene. But today’s verdict is very favorable to the writers. Baskerville granted a request to dismiss the case in a pair of filings. In addition to saying that Altman and Anderson did not provide substantial evidence that the books were obscene, she said Virginia’s laws surrounding obscene books violated the First Amendment.

Obscenity is a rare category of material not protected by the First Amendment, and laws at the state and federal level allow for its restriction. But obscene works must meet a three-part standard, determining that the entire work has “no serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” and is offensive to society as a whole. Altman and Anderson hoped to draft a standard that specifically allowed banning books for people under 18, but declared them acceptable for adults, which Baskerville rejected.

“We are pleased with the outcome of today’s proceedings,” Callahan said in a statement after the verdict. “The First Amendment protects literary expression, even if some people find parts of the works difficult or offensive. All people should be able to choose what they want to read.”

On Facebook, Anderson indicated that the case would continue. “Mr. Altman is reviewing his appellate options. Basically, my client believes there should be a different obscenity standard for children than it currently is for adults, but this question requires review by higher courts to definitively answer,” Anderson wrote.

But the decision represents a defeat in a nationwide campaign to block the entry of minors Gender Queer and other LGBTQ-themed books, usually books containing sexual content. That battle will continue in libraries — but, at least for now, not with the state’s vague obscenity law.

UPDATE 5:15PM ET: Attached is a statement from the ACLU.

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